October 20, 2006

Program to nurture Metro students’ science, math skills

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Natalie Christian, a junior at Nashville’s Hume-Fogg Academic High School, discusses her research project with Marshall Summar, M.D. Christian’s project is sponsored by the Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach.
Photo by Harvey Sperling

Program to nurture Metro students’ science, math skills

Vanderbilt University Medical Center will host a one-day-a-week science and math high school for the brightest public school students in Nashville beginning next fall, a university official told the Metropolitan Board of Public Education last week.

“The school will serve those students who excel in science and math and (who) enthusiastically seek an advanced curriculum that will challenge them to go beyond traditional instruction,” said Virginia Shepherd, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach, which is designing and implementing the school.

“This is an exciting program for the highest students, to capture their interest, beyond what we can provide in our system,” added Metro Schools Director Pedro Garcia, Ed.D.

A collaborative project of VUMC and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, the science and math school will be funded by grants and other sources outside of the public school budget.

Shepherd, professor of Pathology and Medicine and associate professor of Biochemistry, said the project recognizes the need to improve math and science education so that the United States can remain competitive in the global marketplace of technologies and ideas.

Beginning next spring, students who are currently in 8th, 10th and 11th grade in Metro schools will be selected for the program based on their grades, standardized test scores, teacher recommendations, interviews, written statements and original projects they have done.

Next fall, they will spend one day a week at Vanderbilt, attending classes, conducting laboratory research and participating in discussions and videoconferences with scientists and other students across the world, Shepherd said.

Within a year, a curriculum will be provided for all four high school grades. Up to 25 students will be enrolled in each grade.

Students who enroll following completion of 8th grade will be required to commit to a four-year program that will include increasingly intensive academic year and summer programs.

At the same time, they will have to keep up with their studies in their home schools. “This won't excuse them from required work in their regular classes,” Shepherd said. “These students are going to have to commit to extra time.”

Yet Garcia said he didn't expect there to be a lack of students applying for the program.

“There are many students in our schools who do have this ability,” he said. “If anything, this is going to be a very competitive selection process.”

Shepherd received her first science education grant to fund summer workshops for teachers in 1994. In 1999, she secured funding from the National Science Foundation to place graduate students in local science classrooms from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The center also sponsors summer science camps for middle school students, a summer Research Internship Program for high school students, science workshops for teachers and a “kids and computers” program for children from two Nashville public housing developments.

For more information about the Center for Science Outreach, visit its Web site, www.vanderbilt.edu/cso.